4 Jan 2019

Tobacco tax hike leaves shop owners living in fear

8:03 pm on 4 January 2019

The New Years' Day tobacco price hike has dairy and shop owner more worried than ever about robberies and violence toward them.

Side view of a pack of cigarettes with faded filter

Photo: 123RF

In the early hours of this morning the Z Petrol Station on Taranaki Street in Wellington was robbed by five men, who stole cash and cigarettes.

It was reported the offenders were carrying a screwdriver.

The men have not been caught and police are still making enquiries.

The 10 percent tax hike - an effort toward making New Zealand smokefree by 2025 - has been criticised by the Crime Prevention Group - an advocacy group representing dairy, petrol station and shop owners.

President Sunny Kaushal said shop owners were "living in fear" of being attacked during a robbery.

"The cigarette tax has been increasing year after year and it hasn't delivered the objectives that they wanted to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025.

"People are still buying it and compromising buying other stuff... it has opened up a lot more problems than solutions," he said.

"It has given rise to the crime there is an underlying black market. Because this is such an expensive item [criminals] are finding it an easy target to go to the dairies and attack the owners without any negotiations."

Since January 2010 tobacco tax has gone up by at least 10 per cent each year.

The Crime Prevention Group was set up two years ago and represents thousands of shop owners throughout the country.

Mr Kaushal said the government needed to invest more in shop owners' safety.

"The earnings from the cigarette tax - if they invest even a fraction of this into the market - for the safety of shop owners and their workers that will go a long way and would really help.

"That's what any government should be doing."

He said penalties for offenders needed to be harsher.

"What we have been asked is to review the existing law, it needs to be tougher against assaults and aggravated robbery.

"There also needs to be more police on the roads and patrolling and police in community stations - those need to be reopened."

He said some owners were now choosing not to stock cigarettes, to the detriment of their business.

"Not many are giving up selling, there are a few, but why should they? Are we not able to look after their security and safety? We are a first-world society. Having them living in fear is not okay.

"At the end of the day selling cigarettes is not a crime... this is helping get customers in the doors because a customer will buy other stuff as well."

Mr Kaushal said the $1.8 million security fund set up by the government in 2017 had helped, but more needed to be done.

He said last year robberies were relatively slow during January but picked up again as people got away from holiday-mode.

"People are away and when they come back after the holidays, come February March there was quite an increase.

"We are holding our breath, but it's not going to be a good situation if it happens again."

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